WASHINGTON COUNTY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION ET AL.
WASHINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION ET AL.
Session April 15, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Washington County No. 17-CV-0428
John C. Rambo, Chancellor
Halliburton, the director of the Washington County Board of
Education, notified Stacia Howard, a non-tenured teacher,
that her employment contract would not be renewed. The
Washington County board did not review the director's
decision because the board's attorney believed that the
board lacked the legal authority to do so. Ms. Howard and the
Washington County Education Association (WCEA) filed a
complaint against the board and the director. Plaintiffs
sought a declaratory judgment regarding the authority of the
board to review and modify the director's personnel
decisions, including the director's decision to non-renew
Ms. Howard's contract. Defendants filed a motion to
dismiss, arguing that plaintiffs lacked standing. The trial
court granted the defendants' motion. Plaintiffs appeal.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed; Case Remanded
Richard L. Colbert and C. Joseph Hubbard, Nashville,
Tennessee, for the appellants, Washington County Education
Association and Stacia Howard.
K. McPeak, Johnson City, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Washington County Board of Education.
Jeffrey M. Ward, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Richard H. Dinkins and Thomas R. Frierson,
II, JJ., joined.
CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., JUDGE
reviewing the trial court's dismissal of this case
pursuant to the provisions of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6), this
Court is required to take the allegations in plaintiffs'
complaint as true. Nelson v. Myres, 545 S.W.3d 428,
430 (Tenn. 2018) (quoting Crews v. Buckman Labs.
Int'l, Inc., 78 S.W.3d 852, 857 (Tenn. 2002)).
Howard worked as a music teacher at Gray Elementary School
for five consecutive school years. Each year, she received
positive evaluations. Despite these positive evaluations, the
director notified Ms. Howard that her employment contract
would not be renewed for the 2017-18 school year. The board
did not provide written notice to Ms. Howard of the specific
reasons for her non-renewal, as permitted (but not required)
by Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-2-203(b)(8) (2016). As a result,
Ms. Howard never had the opportunity to request a hearing
pursuant to that statutory provision. See id.
("[A]ny teacher so notified shall be given, upon
request, a hearing to determine the validity of the reasons
given for failure of reelection [.]"). Ms. Howard would
have been eligible for tenure if her contract had been
1, 2017, the board met in regular session. Ms. Howard and
various other individuals attended the public meeting for the
purpose of expressing concern about some of the
director's personnel decisions. Before receiving public
comments, members of the board met privately for
approximately thirty minutes. When the public meeting began,
the board's attorney, Tom Seeley, instructed the board
that the personnel decisions made by the director were final.
Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Seeley's advice led the board
to believe that it "had no power or authority to review,
overrule, or otherwise modify or change the personnel
decisions of Director Halliburton." Plaintiffs also
allege that if Mr. Seeley had not advised the board as he
did, "the Board of Education would have reviewed and
reconsidered the decision by Director Halliburton to
non-renew the Plaintiff Howard's employment."
filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment regarding
the authority of the board to review and modify the
director's personnel decisions, including the
director's decision to non-renew Ms. Howard's
contract. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that
plaintiffs lacked standing. The trial court granted
defendants' motion. Plaintiffs timely appealed.
raise the following two issues:
Does a teacher who is the subject of a personnel decision
made by a director of schools pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 49-2-301(b)(1)(EE) have standing to seek a declaratory
judgment regarding the board of ...